The hush of a snowy Sunday

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Winter is my least favorite season, but even I will admit there is something magical about watching children as they watch snow.

We got about eight inches last week — unusual for Maryland. Generally the weather is mild here, and we’ve gotten spoiled by some exceptionally warm winters. It’s almost like we get to skip that season entirely.

Every now and then, though, Mother Nature rears up and reminds us who is really in charge here. Our snowfall came last Saturday into Sunday and, though we had lingering closures and commuting chaos into Monday, it wasn’t too stressful.

I welcomed the reminder to slow down. The holidays were so stressful this year. Much of that was self-imposed, I know, but I have struggled terribly with the sickness that is trying to make holidays “perfect” since my first child was born.

I have a hard time just letting things . . . be what they are. To accept that I don’t have to do All the Things, and my children would be just as happy with cardboard boxes as toys. We’re trying to raise them to be kind, empathetic, generous people, and mountains of presents aren’t in keeping with that goal. They’re not in keeping with anything I want to be about these days, actually.

Still: the pressure. Commercial. Societal. I work in marketing; it’s not like I’m unaware of advertising and messaging. I know how important it is to surround ourselves with positive energy that keeps us feeling strong and confident in our choices.

But when I looked at the small-ish pile of gifts under the tree — gifts my husband and I had carefully chosen for our son and daughter; ones we thought they would really enjoy, not just “stuff” to check the box of “Lots of Stuff for Christmas” — I had this pang of . . . not-doing-enough-ness. A sense that somehow I hadn’t delivered.

That is ridiculous, of course. I do know that. I spent hours planning for, decorating, baking and organizing for Christmas, because everyone knows mothers make the magic happen. And I have very acutely felt the sense of needing to measure up. And that, somehow, I’m not.

I’ve been sitting with these feelings lately, wondering where they come from. What I can do about them. Basically I’m a giant stress ball, and that doesn’t make me a good . . . anything. Partner, parent, employee. So many roles and responsibilities.

My anxiety is usually the root cause, but I actually feel like I have a decent handle on that lately. This is less the panicky fight-or-flight feeling I’m used to, and more just a general unease that I’m not keeping all the plates spinning. That a few are about to fall.

I’ve been reading Breathe, Mama, Breathe by Shonda Moralis — one of approximately 2,000 parenting self-help books I own, but have never made the time to crack open. It’s quick and helpful. I actually meditated for the first time this morning, sitting in our bedroom closet — the only place I can guarantee I will have five minutes to myself — and sat on the floor, emptying my mind until I was just a breathing person. A real living, breathing person.

What a miraculous thing that is.

It felt a little silly at first, but it wasn’t as hard to clear my thoughts as I expected. I’ve been needing a way to take a broom to the ol’ cobwebs in my mind, clearing away much of the useless clutter and trying to focus more on living in the moment.

Oliver will be four this spring, and Hadley almost two. They change so much every day and seem to grow overnight.

I need to be present. Present so I can enjoy it.

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Spence and I took them out into the snow last Sunday, tying on boots and knotting scarves and stuffing hats over curls. It was cold and wet and I hate both of those things, but I pulled on my long coat and joined them.

Hadley was delighted, sticking out her little paws to feel the cold flakes on her fingers and blinking as they dusted her face. Oliver tromped around in his Columbia boots, looking for all the world like an explorer who had recently discovered a new land.

And it occurred to me then, as it occurs to me now, that I have spent so much time standing behind them — arms outstretched in case they fall. But both my son and daughter walk more confidently now. I was amazed at how quickly they took off on uneven ground.

I was grateful for that simple, quiet moment: one that involved nothing but happy kids and heavy coats, a hushed afternoon and warm home to reenter when we were ready.

I haven’t felt sad that a soft January has followed sparkly, edgy, frenetic December.

I know how to appreciate quiet these days.

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Snowy mama mettle

Ollie and me

Well, the Great Blizzard has become the Great Melt.

After five days snowed in at home, I finally got back to the office on Tuesday. “Civilization!” I cried, planting smooches on any human face I encountered. “People! Sunlight!”

Just kidding.

Well, kind of.

Though we made the best of it and I enjoyed being cozy with my boys, I was pretty claustrophobic by Monday. It snowed most of Friday and all of Saturday, finally stopping with 23 inches down by the early hours Sunday morning.

Spencer did a great job keeping our driveway clear, but neighborhood roads were still impassable until Tuesday. With temperatures climbing into the 50s (Maryland weather is nothing if not ridiculous), the roads began to flood. On the one hand, I was quite relieved not to worry about ice. But now, of course, there’s the issue of refreezing . . .

Anyway. Enough boring science stuff.

We never lost power, so there was no need for The Bunker. I knew we had rations to get through the long weekend (and then some), but having no heat was another animal entirely — so I’m very thankful we lucked out there. We never ran out of diapers or formula or water or any of the other essential items I gathered like a rabid Gollum, afraid of someone swooping in to steal my preciouses.

After the storm settled (literally), we went outside with Ollie for a grand total of, oh, ten minutes . . . long enough to snap a few photos. My sister and brother-in-law braved slick roads to come see the Ollie man and his first big snow.

He wasn’t too interested. But that was mostly because of the dreaded jacket/hood combination.


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Back when Ollie was tipping the scales at 5 pounds and we stared at him all day, convinced he would stop breathing without our vigilance, going outside at all was a process. The day after he came home, we went his first pediatric appointment just a few miles away.

The first night was horrible, of course. The month after Oliver was born but before he was released was the strangest of my life. I’d given birth, but our child wasn’t there with us. We made near-daily treks to his hospital in Baltimore, but . . . we had gone back to sleeping.

Sleep. Sleeeeeeeep.

I slept horribly throughout my pregnancy, especially toward the end. I could never get comfortable, especially since I’m a back sleeper (a no-no while expecting). After he was born, of course, I still wasn’t resting well . . . too many churning thoughts with insomnia. But when I could sleep, I did. For hours. Unbroken. For as long as I wanted, or could.

As soon as our son came home, of course, that rest became an exotic memory. When we arrived at Dr. M’s office that first morning, I was practically frothing at the mouth. We had barely slept, Spencer and me, and I’d spent most of the night staring at this impossibly small child wondering where he had come from.

No love lost for last May, that’s for sure.

When we saw Dr. M and introduced our preemie, it was a relief to learn she had welcomed a premature child herself. Our biggest questions were, of course, How do we do this? Are we ever going to sleep again?

(Yes. I wish I’d known that for sure nine months ago.)

In the beginning, Oliver could not get comfortable at home. He’d spent his entire life in a cozy, temperature-regulated isolette with nurses tending to his needs around the clock. Ollie was suddenly in a dark, quiet room with two strangers — us, his parents — and I cried to my husband, “He wants to go back!”

We worried he was cold. Or uncomfortable in his snap-up outfit. I thought we were supposed to put pajamas on babies, not realizing that it makes no difference at all. So I’d forced a footed thing on him, thinking that was what we were “supposed” to do, only for him to spend the whole night miserably trying to kick it off.

He is, and has always been, a kicker.

I remember asking Dr. M what to do about the kicking. Terrified of SIDS, like all parents, I knew we could not have any loose bedding in his bassinet — but he just seemed cold and out of sorts. He kicked off anything we tried to put on him. She confirmed we could swaddle him . . . but he didn’t love that, either. Ollie hates being confined, so the wearable blankets we received are, um, ready to be passed along in pristine condition, shall we say.

Dr. M was comforting. She reminded us, in her gentle way, that we are his parents. The nurses are gone; the NICU is gone. We are responsible for his care, and we make the decisions.

“Sometimes you just have to say, ‘Little baby, I know what’s best for you, and this is what we’re going to do,’” she said.


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It seemed a little hokey at the time — especially given we feared Oliver was actually a vampire child, sleeping soundly during the day but alert (and shrieking) all night.

But I get it now. Ollie definitely has his own personality, with likes and dislikes and temper tantrums for the latter. He despises anything being on his feet or head, so hats and socks and hoods are immediately shucked off. Don’t even try shoes.

Jackets really irritate him — which is fun because, you know, it’s winter. And about 25 degrees. But as Ollie goes stiff-armed to avoid the sleeves, having a meltdown when I lift the hood to shield him from the cold, I summon my motherly courage — the mettle I guess I had in me all along — to give him the hair eyeball.

“I know,” I say. “Mama hears you. But my baby, I know what’s best for you, and this is what we’re going to do.”

And we do.

Er, most of the time.

Have to pick our battles, right?


Let it snow, snow, snow (whether we like it or not)

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The weather reports are pretty unanimous now: we’re in for a big one. At least a foot of snow, if not more, plus strong winds, ice, low visibility — the works. Needless to say, all plans are cancelled and we ain’t going anywhere. It’ll be our first family snowed-in weekend!

Our last major snowfall was the February snowpocalypse of 2010. About 2 feet of snow fell around D.C., grinding the area to a halt for more than a week. It was about a month before I met Spencer, and I remember everyone — ev.ery.one. — logging into OkCupid, bored at home and rekindling their efforts to find romance. It was kind of fun.

So now it’s six years later, and we’re staring down another monster storm. I’m a little excited . . . and nervous, too. It’s strange to know a crazy weather event is coming to pummel your area full days in advance. We’re grateful for the warning, of course, but we’re all just holding our breath as we wait. It’s going to be bad, but we don’t yet know how bad.

As long as the power stays on, we’ll be fine.

And if it doesn’t, we’re heading to the basement.


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Spencer and I have spent the last few weeks transforming a little-used storage room downstairs into a space for my crafts, home decor, organization of random junk I’ve somehow carried through two moves, etc. January seems to be the time for that. Put away all the Christmas decor and you’re suddenly aching for a clean, fresh, unsullied start.

After dropping way too much cash at Lowe’s, Spence is building me a counter/table work space. I’ve been Googling “craft rooms” and saving all sorts of photos to my own for inspiration, turning to Pinterest and basically pretending I know what I’m doing. (I don’t know what I’m doing.)

But we’re figuring it out. Sometimes it’s easier to pinpoint what I don’t like, decor-wise, and I basically buy everything from Zulily, anyway. So soon I’ll be dragging plastic storage bins down from every corner of the house to finally have my art supplies, stationery, seasonal decor and such in one place.

No more chaos. Organized chaos, perhaps, but I can work with that.

I’ve never considered myself OCD, but a coworker recently commented on how “clean” my desk was. I glanced over at a strange blend of clementines and bananas (always have healthy snacks on hand! Still going strong on Weight Watchers), many scratchy notes on Post-Its, various magazines I’m using for research, Coke Rewards caps, etc.

Everything was in tidy piles: right down to the bottle caps. Square things were at right angles; round things were grouped together.

I’ve always thought of it as being orderly. I just like things the way I like them.

But we have to be flexible sometimes, right? With the looming storm, we’re converting my soon-to-be craft room — currently just a newly-painted space with a bookcase — into The Bunker. The basement is strangely warmer than anywhere else in the house, plus it’s below ground . . . and, as in a tornado warning, that makes me feel safer.

The Bunker will have bottled water, extra blankets, a power pack for charging cell phones, the baby’s formula and extra bottles, flashlights, etc. I don’t know why I’m treating this like, say, a hurricane . . . but weather-related disaster prep is apparently all in one mental manila folder.

I have always lived in suburban Maryland, surrounded by bedroom communities with commuters heading into D.C. every day. The jokes about Washingtonians not being able to handle a single inch or two of snow aren’t wrong, but that’s not the full picture. Trust me, I get it; my husband grew up outside of Buffalo. What freaks me out doesn’t even begin to worry him.

But the roads quickly get congested and messy here. Our traffic is horrendous on a normal day, let alone during a rush hour with sleet coming down. We’re not used to cruising on ice, and hey — no one is safe on ice.

Plus, in our case, we have this little baby now.

I can worry about my own safety just fine, but worrying about Oliver’s safety is an entirely different shade of anxiety. Being responsible for a child is stressful in the best of circumstances, but having a 9-month-old still recovering from a weird virus, refusing to sleep and dealing with an upcoming blizzard has had me hitting the coffee — my drug of choice — pretty hard lately.

We took him to the doctor yesterday, knowing he wasn’t too ill yet . . . but we’d soon be stuck inside for days, and on a weekend. We’re no stranger to emergency rooms and urgent care, unfortunately, but I’d rather stave off that sort of craziness if we can.

Ollie is doing better today, thankfully, and I’m hoping the worst has passed. I stocked up on diapers, water, formula, etc. on Tuesday, ducking out after work before the crowds got unmanageable. Marylanders do tend to panic at the word “snow,” but this time? Well, I think that’s warranted.

I’m not going to lose my cool, though. We’re working from home today and tomorrow, Ollie is doing better, we have plenty of peanut butter for PB&Js if it should get a little dark in here.

And if nothing else, we’ll have stories — many stories — to tell.

Stay safe and warm, my friends! I’ll be looking for your Instagram photos and snow totals this weekend. Keep those yardsticks handy.


Blizzard envy?

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Okay, I’ll admit it — I have a little blizzard envy.

With record snow falling in the Northeast, I’ve been following the snowfall and clipper activity with the intensity of a true weather junkie. Here south of Washington, D.C., we’ve gotten nothing but cold rain and dreariness.

As a kid, word of an approaching snowstorm was an excuse to stay up late watching for your school district — C’mon, Charles County; c’mon, Charles County — to scroll across the ticker tape on the nightly news. “CLOSED” meant big breakfasts with Dad, staying in our pajamas and snowball fights with our family dog.

Idyllic, indeed . . . and decades ago. Though I’m far removed from those carefree days, I can’t help remembering the snow days of my youth: long, languorous things filled with hot chocolate and unlimited Nickelodeon and Uno with my sister. Definitely not the harsh reality of snow as an adult.

Which sucks. Generally speaking.

Though snow is dangerous and messy, scary and intimidating, there is a beauty and simplicity in being stuck indoors with hot tea, a fat novel and your significant other curled up at your side. Nothing to do, nowhere to go . . . just a cozy day indoors watching the fat flakes fall. You know, until you have to go out and shovel.

I think some of the romance is tied to the idea of taking a break from reality . . . this unexpected detour in an otherwise planned set of events. Finding yourself at home making breakfast instead of wedged at your desk is a wonderful change, indeed, and sleeping late on a Wednesday feels positively luxurious. For as much as I love schedules and to-do lists, color-coded calendars and plans, sometimes I need to be shoved out of my routines.

Snow does that. Maybe not three feet of snow — Boston, I feel for you — but . . . a few inches? Enough to change up the day? Well.

I’m being snow-fully romantic, I know . . . in fact, just a few weeks ago, I complained about the cold and how being pregnant with ice on the ground makes me exceptionally nervous. If I fall, I’m falling for two.

But I can’t keep out winter with full-body bubble wrap. All I can do is be careful — and roll with whatever Mother Nature throws our way.

Which, thankfully, hasn’t been much. (But I would take a little.)

If you’re home, stay safe — and have some cocoa for me.


Wintry war

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I’m no snow bunny.

After the wicked winter we endured last year, I still get panicky on icy roads and drive like an inebriated toddler as soon as the first fat flakes begin to fall. A Marylander through and through, I’m unused to bad winter weather and would prefer to, you know, never go out in it. Ever.

But I work at a newspaper. Believe you me: we close for no man (except for the year we got three-ish feet of snow in two days . . . but that was freakish. So.). Even with falling temperatures and scary, slick roads, we operate on a normal schedule — and I had to get my little self into the office.

I understand, though; snow isn’t supposed to slow us down. By day, I’m an editor and columnist and really like my job. There are always stories to edit! Pages to lay out! Columns to . . . columnize!

(That’s not a word. I apologize.)

But this year? I’m commuting for two. When I spy an icy patch of pavement, I legitimately think about how I cannot fall because I’m carrying a baby — and though he/she is partly to blame for my clumsiness lately, I’m already a mama of sorts. Totally in protective mode.

It’s making me nervous.

As a hardened New Yorker, my husband isn’t phased by any of this. Snow? Sleet? Press on. What scares him are, of course, the people like me — the nervous Nancys who drive 10 under the speed limit and shake a fist at the renegades who fly by in their BMWs on salty highways. The ones who have no idea what they’re doing.

When we visited Spencer’s hometown over Christmas break, I couldn’t believe how unfazed everyone was by the inches of snow that fell overnight. Where everyone in D.C. would be off work with hot cocoa watching “Judge Judy” snug at home (just me?), the good people of Western New York were donning their boots and setting off into the squalls without hesitation.

It’s kind of impressive, actually.

Though he’s lived in Maryland for half a decade, Spence hasn’t forgotten the tricks of the wintry trade that make him such a pro. We have shovels and salt, snow blowers and winter car wipers. Pretty soon I’ll pack my car with emergency rations and begin practicing my patented white-knuckle-grip on our back roads.

Last year we lived right off a major highway — and on a major plow route. This winter? We’re not in the middle of nowhere, but we’re in a neighborhood off a side street off a thoroughfare that’s off a highway . . . and in terms of being stuck, I have no idea what to expect. Will someone come to dig us out? Who will save us?

I’m being dramatic, I know. Extra-crazy hormones? I mean, it’s just winter. But where I’d rather be inside making homemade Hamburger Helper, burning candles and watching the woods whiten from the comfort of my window, I’m mentally preparing myself to join the masses schlepping to work and school without complaint.

Well, with a little complaint.

I’m only human.

(Is it too early to ask if it’s spring yet?)


Blue morning. Home.

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We woke this morning to a blue world — incredibly still, snow-covered, wracked with ice slapping against our windows. Everyone along the East Coast knew about the impending storm, and most of us spent last evening breathlessly anticipating the first few flakes . . . but by 10 p.m., nothing much was happening.

I had that familiar pang of disappointment left over from my days as a student — the one that accompanies epic snow predictions that ultimately result in . . . nothing. Our meteorologists in the D.C. area are notoriously off-base, but I can’t say I blame them. Things happen, you know. Storms shift course. Snow fails to fall. Classes resume.

But by 6 a.m., it was a different story. Spencer stirred first, stumbling to the window to peer through our thin curtains. The hill was glazed and frosted.

“How much?” I croaked.

“Not much,” he said. But I immediately asked for the “Maryland version,” knowing “not much” to my hardy New Yorker husband is pretty different from our standards.

It was much. Even the plow trucks weren’t out yet, our parking lot a drift of deep snow. But without my contacts, I had to take his word for it. I’m so blind in the morning.

When I could finally gauge the situation for myself, I decided to stay home. And it’s super strange. Between the violent ice crashing into our windows all night and the roads being far from passable now, I decided to take a vacation day and hunker down in our condo.

After all my big talk of never getting a snow day, it feels so weird to be home on a Thursday morning. We’re watching “Today” and its Olympic coverage, dreaming of balmy 60-degree temperatures in Sochi and staring at piles of dirty dishes. This isn’t a true snow day — the kind granted free-of-charge by a benevolent employer — but hey . . . I’ll still take it! And gratefully.

But . . . I’m trying to figure out what to do with myself. I’ve been up since 6:30. Faced with hours of freedom and seclusion, Spencer is working while I envision finally backing up years of photos, working on our wedding photo album, vacuuming, finishing The Heart Is Not a Size . . . or just clearing out the DVR, drinking tons of coffee and scraping this place into some semblance of organized.

This is the first snow day I’ve been snug in our condo, not at home with my parents and sister — and maybe that’s where my sense of nostalgia stems from. I’m thinking of our old snowmen, epic snowball fights, shoveling with Dad as we sweated through our winter coats. Here we have nothing to dig out save our cars, nowhere for snow forts. And though I’ve felt at home in my new space since my October move, there are still moments — sudden, overwhelming moments — when I feel 10 years old again, wondering how I got here. Where my snowman went.

But there will be more snowball fights and hot cocoa. It’s a gray day, but it’s a beautiful one . . .

. . . And it’s all mine.


The new snow day

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In today’s edition of Sometimes It’s No Fun To Be An Adult, I rarely get snow days.

And if I do, well . . . let’s just say that something really, really icy has happened. Like the Snowpocalypse of 2010, say — the only time I can ever recall my newspaper closing. We were permitted to leave an hour early two weeks ago when a storm came rumbling in, but we’d already sent everything to press for the day and were basically chillin’.

Literally.

But oh, friends, I remember the glorious deliciousness that was the snow day as a kid. My sister/partner-in-crime was often awake before me, and I could tell by the way she was rumbling around and talking with my dad whether or not schools were closed.

Even without the Sister Barometer, though, I had the most scientific of all methods for determining whether we would be home for the day: observing how the light was slanting through the blinds in my bedroom. If the normally-dark pink was noticeably brighter — back-lit, say, though I didn’t know that word — it was probably safe to go back to sleep. Seeing that bright light meant we’d been blanketed with the fluffy stuff, and schools in Maryland don’t generally play around with that.

Once we finished helping Dad shovel out, we’d all pile inside to shed wet boots and jackets and wait (im)patiently for hot chocolate. If we were fortunate enough to get “snowball snow,” we’d fling ourselves around the yard for a while trying to create Mr. Snowman and, perhaps, his lovely (and shorter) wife. Mom would produce lollipops for his eyes and mouth, and we’d dig around for an old scarf to keep him “warm.”

Those were some happy, freewheelin’ snow days.

Even if apartment living means no outdoor space to build a snowman (and c’mon, I probably wouldn’t be out there, anyway), it’s nice to take in the scenery from our elevated view in winter. With all the slush, there’s been plenty to see right from our windows — you know, where it’s warm and quiet. Like this couple who were . . . drawing something? Signalling someone? Horsing around?


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For me, the new snow day means reading inside with “Judge Judy” in the background, editing photos, sneaking pieces of chocolate from our stash. Baking cupcakes. Cleaning. We’ve had a few self-imposed “snow days” when the weather was dreary on a weekend — when we stayed in all day to get caught up on everything and nothing.

Before our wedding, Spencer and I used to talk about how cozy it would be to eventually snuggle up with blankets as the snow drifted down outside our own home — neither of us needing or wanting to be anywhere else.

That feeling hasn’t worn thin just yet.

And now I make hot chocolate for two.